At UFC 167 on Saturday, George St Pierre puts everything on the line against his most dangerous opponent yet. That’s what the UFC hype would have us believe, but for once it’s not actually too far from the truth. The UFC is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has brought out its biggest pay per view draw in St Pierre in an attempt to turn around a disappointing run of buyrates, loading the card recognisable names, established players and some exciting prospects.
George St Pierre is, to use a phrase from the UFC lexicon, the winningest UFC fighter of all time. His 18 UFC wins is a record that he shares with former welterweight champion Matt Hughes, and a win here would see him overtake Anderson Silva for wins in UFC title fights. In Johny Hendricks he faces a dangerous, well-rounded challenger. Someone who has the potential to neutralise GSP’s main method of attack, while also posing a serious knockout threat. Many will point the result of Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman as a reason why GSP’s seemingly almost unbeatable skill-set must be doubted, but that would be a disservice to that skill-set. Where Silva is unpredictable and sometimes appears to goals in a fight beyond simply winning, the relentless and grinding determination of St Pierre to get through another fight with his belt in toe is inescapable. Hendricks has been deserving of a titleshot for some time – many believe he could have had one more than two years ago after defeating Jon Fitch in dominant fashion, but injuries to the champion, interim title fights and a certain Stockton native kept St Pierre busy until now. His performances against Kampmann and Condit have solidified him as the top contender in the 17o pound division, standing alone when many others have fallen by the wayside.
While the main event has everything on the line – records, legacies, championship gold – the co-main event lacks even much of a rivalry. Former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans faces his UFC on Fox broadcast partner Chael Sonnen, in what will be Sonnen’s fourth consecutive against a current or former champion. Both are coming off wins, with Sonnen having choked out Shogun Rua on the debut Fox Sports 1 broadcast and Rashad Evans boasting a split decision win over Sonnen’s training partner Dan Henderson at UFC 161. These two are both excellent wrestlers, but Evans is the favourite here on account of his speed. After going off the boil to an extent over the past couple of years, Evans is speaking of a renewed focus and determination – if he turns up with the same attitude that brought him those show-stopping wins over Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin and others, Sonnen will have a difficult task on his hands.
While the undisputed welterweight king headlines this anniversary card, Rory MacDonald – who many believe is the great dominant welterweight of the future – faces off against the veteran Robbie Lawler. After a less than impressive victory over Jake Ellenberger MacDonald needs to get back in the good books of the UFC brass, and in theory Lawler is the best opponent for him to do that against. Lawler will undoubtedly come forward early, rather than present the cagey offence MacDonald has seen previously. Lawler is a vicious striker, with 18 knockout wins and only five of his 31 fights going to decision, and is arguably the very definition of a ‘kill or be killed’ fighter. MacDonald will have to be on his game and bring it to Lawler unless he wants to get knocked out, and this will hopefully put MacDonald in a place where he can impress.
The main card also features an interesting welterweight clash between Josh Koscheck and Tyron Woodley. Koscheck is coming off a knockout loss to Lawler and Woodley is coming off a decision loss to Jake Shields, so both fighters will be anxious to get back to winning ways on Saturday. Koscheck’s powers are undoubtedly weaning as he gets towards the twilight of his career, but this will still be a tough test for Woodley. Both were NCAA Division 1 wrestlers, making this an interesting style match-up. Opening up the pay per view for the second month running will be the flyweights, with top ten ranked Tim Elliot taking on Ali Bagautinov. The newest Russian import into the UFC, Bagautinov is a proven finisher but he will certainly have his hands full with the well-rounded Elliot.
The prelims are headlined by an intriguing fight in the lightweight division between Donald Cerrone and Evan Dunham, as both fighters look to rebound from losses to Rafael Dos Anjos. Both are highly skilled and highly regarded in the UFC’s 155 pound division, and with ten fight night bonuses between them these two have the potential to put on a great performance here. The lightweight division is more stacked than ever in the UFC, and a win here would put either fighter back in the conversation in the upper end of it. Cerrone has 13 of 20 wins by submission but Dunham has never tapped in his career, and this fight will probably be taken by the fighter who wins the ground game. Also highlighting the televised prelims is a match between veterans Ed Herman and Thales Leites. The former middleweight title challenger Leites is enjoying a career revival in his second UFC spell, while TUF 3 runner-up Herman is getting back on track after losses to Jake Shields and Jacare Souza with a split decision win over Trevor Smith earlier this year.
On the online prelims the brother of current lightweight champion Antony Pettis, Sergio, will make his UFC debut in the bantamweight division against fellow debutant Will Campuzano. Sergio Pettis is one of the most highly touted prospects in MMA today, and if he impresses against Campuzano he could well be on the fast-track to becoming a star in the bantamweight division.
Picks: Villante, Pettis, Lapsley, Perez, Story, Herman, Cerrone, Elliot, Woodley, MacDonald, Sonnen, St Pierre
Main Card (PPV/BT Sport 1) 10 EST/3am GMT:
UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks
Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen
Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald
Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley
Ali Bagautinov vs. Tim Elliott
Prelims (Fox Sports 1/BT Sport 1) 8 EST/1am GMT:
Evan Dunham vs. Donald Cerrone
Ed Herman vs. Thales Leites
Brian Ebersole vs. Rick Story
Edwin Figueroa vs. Erik Perez
Prelims (Facebook/YouTube) 6:45 EST/11:45 GMT:
Jason High vs. Anthony Lapsley
Sergio Pettis vs. Will Campuzano
Cody Donovan vs. Gian Villante